Top tools for freelancers
Every professional needs great tools. Fortunately for us freelancers, there is a tonne of tools at our disposal to make our lives easier, more productive and keep our clients happy.
I've put together a comprehensive list of tools that you can try.
Invoicing and time tracking
You want to get paid correctly? If you charge by time, accurately tracking that time is essential. The tools listed below do both time tracking and invoicing, making the whole job a seamless experience.
Communicating with your clients
Effective communication with your clients is vital in order to have happy clients. You don't need to be fancy here, normal email, phone and sometimes Skype is fine.
You know the drill - you need to arrange a meeting (in person or virtually) with a client or prospect and a chain of back and forth emails commences until you can find a date and time when you are both free. There are some great solutions for this problem. The idea is, you specify when you are available, send a link to the client to the tool and they can choose one of the available slots. No back and forth required.
You may use your own template for proposals, or even craft each one from scratch. Having a well structured proposal is critical to winning work, so some help can go a long way.
A CRM (Customer Relationship Manager) helps you stay on top of your dealings with your clients, prospects and leads.
Email sounds simple right? You just need something like Gmail. But there are also tools which help you manage your inbox, follow up with clients and reuse snippets of text.
Email campaigns & marketing automation
Not all freelancers will run email campaigns, but many do. Running email campaigns and an automated sales funnel is a great way to market your services and keep your client pipeline full.
In addition to the email campaign service itself, you might need something to quickly launch landing pages and call to action boxes (I use LeadPages for this).
Blogging is one of the methods many freelancers use to market themselves, and ultimately get more clients. There are a zillion blogging platforms out there, with Wordpress leading the pack in terms of market share by a country mile. If you are a freelance web developer or designer, you might have more experience with one particular platform. My recommendation is to stick with that one for your own blog, because when your goal is to market yourself, it is not the right time to start learning a new platform.
You could broadcast to the various social networks separately. Or you could use a tool that centralises it, allows you to queue and broadcast at specific times and provides some nice stats.
As web professionals, we often have large files to share with our clients and support channels like accountants.
Our work is on our computers. The last thing we want is a hardware failure, burglary or fire to destroy years of work. Having a good backup strategy in place is as important as having insurance.
All freelancers need to do accounting. Some of us enjoy it, some of us loathe it, but none of us can get away from it. I find a good accountant to be essential, not only to do your accounts, tax forms and deal with the tax authorities but also for advice.
There is a TONNE of project management tools on the market. Many of them are more suitable for teams than they are for solo freelancers.
Like project management tools, there is a mass of todo lists on the market. Mostly it is a matter of trying a few and finding the one that fits best.
Many freelancers find staying focused when working from home more difficult than when they used to be employed with a boss breathing down their neck. There are tools to help with this though.
Brainstorming is a great way to come up with new freelance services and products, blog post ideas or just to clear your head.
Do you have notes all over your desk? Using an online note taking took is a great way to stay on top of your notes and organise them. I still have notes all over my desk, but I'd have twice as many if I didn't use Evernote and Workflowy!
As freelancers, we have to stay on top of our game. The web is like a river of information. Some of that information grabs your attention and you feel like you have to read it. But if you read everything as soon as you stumble upon it, you'll get no real work done. Enter "reading later" tools. They allow you to save the articles you want to read, which you can then pick up later on a variety of devices.
All web professionals have a long list of passwords to remember. Often we end up keeping our passwords simple in order to remember them. But simple isn't necessarily secure. Using a password manager allows you to use strong passwords that you don't have to remember.
Writing is hard to get away from if you are a freelancer: blog posts, proposals, emails, bios, whitepapers, client documentation.
Processing payments online & file delivery
This is not strictly a freelancer tool, but many freelancers do sell information products (ebooks etc) or software (plugins etc). There are plenty of good tools to process payments from customers and deliver them the files.
I chose Fastspring for this because they were the company with the best support for dealing with EU VAT. As an EU based business, this was vital for me. They came highly recommended because of their excellent customer support. As a customer I can vouch for that now too.